Ohio State Has Emerged As a Legit Playoff Contender, but the Toughest Tests Are Yet to Come

By David Regimbal on October 10, 2019 at 10:10 am
The Ohio State Buckeyes

Six games through the 2018 season, Ohio State was ranked No. 3 in the country — exactly where it finds itself six games into the 2019 slate.

The vibe between the two teams, however, couldn't be more different.

Last year's Buckeyes were dominant offensively, but that was thanks to a record-breaking passing attack spearheaded by quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The offense lacked balance, though, and the absence of a strong running game was concerning.

Then there was a defense showing signs of big issues. Nick Bosa was lost for the season, the linebacker and secondary coaches were running a secret competition to see who could erase their position groups from relevancy on a weekly basis, and opposing offenses were having little trouble finding room to work.

All that manifested in the shocking 49-20 upset loss to Purdue that knocked Ohio State out of the playoff hunt. The Buckeyes had beaten better opponents and would go on to beat stronger squads later in the season, but that team didn't look like it could hang with Clemson or Alabama.

Fast forward one year, things feel a lot different.

With Ryan Day at the helm, offseason moves were made to cure what ailed Ohio State last year.

The overhauled defensive staff has the Buckeyes ranked in the top 10 in total defense, third-down defense, blocked kicks, blocked punts, interceptions, passing and rushing defense, red-zone defense, sacks, and tackles for loss.

Getting Georgia transfer Justin Fields behind center helped fix the rushing attack as well. With a dual-threat at quarterback, J.K. Dobbins and the ground game have punished opponents to the tune of 288.5 yards per game, which ranks second nationally behind Navy.

Day and Ohio State have to feel good about where they stand heading into the bye-week. Not one of the Buckeyes' first six opponents offered a legitimate challenge, and Ohio State's average margin of victory (40.5) leads the country.

Ohio State's Remaining Schedule
Date Opponent
10/18 @ Northwestern
10/26 No. 8 Wisconsin
11/9 Maryland
11/16 @ Rutgers
11/23 No. 10 Penn State
11/30 @ No. 16 Michigan

But the Buckeyes' road to a potential playoff berth will get much bumpier in the second half of the season.

Ohio State gets back to action with a rematch of last year's Big Ten title game when it travels to Northwestern next Friday. The Wildcats were expected to compete for another West Division title, and the matchup in Evanston was pegged by many as a potential trap game for Ohio State before the season started. But Pat Fitzgerald's squad hasn't lived up to the hype, starting the year just 1-4.

That should be one of the first gimmes on Ohio Sate's remaining schedule, along with a home game against Maryland and a trip to Rutgers to start November.

But home games against Wisconsin and Penn State and the regular-season finale against Michigan in Ann Arbor should provide a challenge the Buckeyes haven't faced to date.

The Badgers will bring their top-ranked defense and ball-control offense to Columbus on the final Saturday of October. Outside of Ohio State, Wisconsin has looked like the Big Ten's best team and boasts a 35-14 thrashing of Michigan that was never as close as the score indicates. Jonathan Taylor and Co. will be an extremely tough out.

The Buckeyes can't afford to look ahead to their matchup with Michigan, as Penn State's slated to visit Columbus the week before.

The gap between the Badgers and Nittany Lions seems razor thin as both have been dominant this season. Quarterback Sean Clifford is coming along well and the defense is playing its best football of the James Franklin era.

And of course, there's the finale against Michigan. Even with the Wolverines floundering, they'll be a desperate team when the Buckeyes visit.

Like any good team, Ohio State has to clear each hurdle week by week. But as the Buckeyes shift toward the second half of their schedule, those hurdles will be much taller and tougher to clear.

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